I realized the other day that a Guardian write up from a few months back has me coming out strong against the Hunger Games books for lack of diversity and saying Suzanne Collins lacks imagination. The HG trilogy is actually one of my favorite Young Adult series and is one of the few dystopias out there that stars a woman of color and has a variety of skin-tones in its cast of characters.
This is not to say I was misquoted – (Ashley Ford is one of my favorite writers, a writer I want to grow up to be like one day) – I’m pretty sure I got excited and didn’t express myself clearly, so let me go on record right now and say this:
The Hunger Games movies whitewashing of Katniss was a tremendously unimaginative and useless act, although I’m glad they diversified the general cast quite a bit as the series progressed. In general, the popular surge of YA dystopias that followed in the wake of the HG trilogy has been wildly undiverse, and that is indeed a failure of the imagination of those authors. It’s disheartening, as POC, not to see ourselves in the future. Visions of the post-apocalyptic world that are so focused on oppression and power but can’t fathom how racism might function always ring dishonest and hollow. The 89% white publishing industry clearly has a much easier time reckoning with racism as something in the past rather than in the present or future. All of that is a genre-wide problem, particularly in books that stress over and over how only the strong survive and somehow have no POC. This is a deeply troubling message to send out to young people. The Hunger Games, whose success inspired so many of these books, doesn’t deal explicitly with race/power but it does make it clear that Panem isn’t a lily white world, and I’ve always loved that about the series. I also appreciate its nuanced and complex take on revolution, trauma, and violence. It’s a series that I’ve taught and referred back to many times when pondering narrative technique and how to weave in deeper thematic issues.